I’m re-reading some of the books I loved in the 90s to see what I make of them now.
What I remember
It’s hard to untangle my memories of Jeffrey Eugenides’ novel The Virgin Suicides from the iconic movie and its Air soundtrack. Incredibly, that film came out in 2000, which feels strange since my impressions of it are so vivid despite it being more than twenty years ago. Every time I consider the book’s details, it’s the film I think of.
One of the most interesting things about the novel is that it is written from a second-person plural viewpoint (something it has in common with Josh Ferris’s Then We Came to the End – another book I should re-read). I don’t remember the group narration from when I read it in the mid-90s, but I’m looking forward to seeing how the book is constructed.
I’m curious as to how well the book has aged. The novel is based around objectifying a group of young women, and I wonder if that will feel less comfortable nowadays. Either way, this book has an advantage over The Secret History of being a short read.
What it was like
Despite being a short book, I struggled to make progress with The Virgin Suicides. It’s very well written, almost a textbook piece of creative writing, but I didn’t like it very much. The book describes the lives and deaths of four teenage girls from the point-of-view of the men who grew up around them. The book is very much about male gaze. I kept imagining an audiobook read by Hannah Gadsby, and how little time she would have for the often-creepy objectification of the teenage girls in the book.
Eugenides’ writing is exquisite, and the opening paragraph is a good example of this, with a mix of summary, imaginative details and foreshadowing. I could imagine it being discussed in a classroom. The book builds its story about the sisters and the boys watching them through subtle, exquisite details.
The book is suffused with longing and nostalgia, as a group of middle-aged men investigate the life and deaths of the five Lisbon sisters. The men have collected exhibits from the time, as well as interviewing some of the people involved.
The book made me feel impatient and I found the tone less pleasant than I had on first reading. the Guardian published a review of the book by writer Dizz Tate, who gives a more enthusiastic view.
While I didn’t enjoy my re-read of The Virgin Suicides, maybe it just caught me in the wrong mood I can imagine returning to it in another 20 years or so to see what I make of it then.If you want to follow what I'm up to, sign up to my mailing list